Another executive, standing a few feet away, called the Offseason “the year of the shortstop” with five talented players in the position arriving at free agency at the same time. The chance for teams was rich. Soon the short stops will be richer. There will be a lot of names going around, some obligated to stick with his team, so the Chief of Baseball Operations called his short position to confirm the plan to keep him in the position.
And that pledge paid off for Jerry Dipto of Seattle.
While several short stops for the free agent like Trevor Storey and Carlos Correa have opened the season slowly — two of the Fab Fives hitting under .200, all jostling under . .546 deceleration rate.
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On the same day as Dipoto and at the same resort, John Mozeliak, Cardinals’ chief of baseball operations, quietly made a similar comment about his team’s long view of the short hiatus: The team was sticking with Paul DeJong despite the downturn in his production. Mozeliak told him in person shortly before Thanksgiving that they wouldn’t be shopping for a replacement. It was a seed of confidence, planted in winter, followed by a cheerful spring—but it had yet to blossom as summer approached.
The commitment made in November had become a common question by May.
“I feel like I blinked an eye a little bit and suddenly here we are,” DeJong said Sunday morning at Oracle Park in San Francisco, as his hit rate was about to hit 0.130. “For me, it’s just the nitty-gritty now and it doesn’t go too far. I blinked my eyes and I feel like I’ve missed some chances this year. I need to focus on the moment, go on the field. That’s the only way to do it.”
With the Cardinals returning home to host the Baltimore Orioles on one of their rare visits to St. Louis since shedding Brown’s name and emigrating from St. Louis after the 1953 season, DeJong is emerging from steady and unplanned playing time. The journey of six matches began with the entry of Edmundo Sosa to the list of those infected with the Covid-19 virus. This opened up DeJong’s six straight matches to start in no time, and six straight matches would find his rhythm in the plate. He had two singles on Saturday, but those were his only hits when he finished swinging the road twice for 19 (.105) with three RBIs, a walk, and five hits.
The Cardinal loved the attacking one-on-one in San Francisco for left-handed forward Brendan Donovan, but with a fielder on inspire they sided with the defense and DeJong. His glove is what has kept him in the squad for now. His manager added his gauntlet and production elsewhere in the squad. Before Sunday’s foul and a double-play diversion foul, DeJong led all of the short stops in defensive drills that were salvaged. Even after the errors, his DRS+5 ranks second in the short term and fifth all-time in any position, behind teammate Tommy Edman’s plus-6. He parried Sunday’s foul by stealing a long-grab into the left field.
“Right now, playing DeJong short is my call to win because of what he’s doing on the other side of baseball,” said manager Oliver Marmol. “In the middle of your field, you want to be defensively strong, and if the rest of your lineup is doing their work, you can walk away from a strong defensive short path with some upside in the hit that’s yet to come.”
DeJong’s steady spring showed improved swing and approach that fueled the team’s optimism that he could halt a two-year slump in the batting. Dealing with hand and torso injuries and recovering from COVID-19, DeJong has reached .202 in 182 games since 2020, and the previous one-season All-Star and Cardinals record holder in home runs at shortstop had hit .356 in his previous appearance In 662 plates. The Cardinals saw a spike in March in metrics indicating a hitter is closer to restoring energy, and raising his production. Marmol called it “a really good spring.”
Analytics did not maintain this rise by May.
Barrel Ratio measures the number of balls in play by a hitter who has an exit velocity greater than 98 mph and an angle of release that often produces a hit (greater than the 0.500 average) and often extra bass hits. DeJong’s is down from 10.6% last year to 5.7% this year. The ‘hard’ rate comes from balls in play only at the margins of the pipe – produced in an averaging area of 0.400. DeJong’s rate has fallen, from a career average of 7% to 1.9% this season, per Baseball Savant. He experiences a higher percentage of broken balls and out of speed pitches than in previous years and, therefore, a lower percentage of speed balls.
In contrast, the percentage of balls he gets from under and popping out or flying out rose to what would be a career high, at 45.3%, per Statcast. The average MLB is 24.4%.
“When he gets to the floor and swings on the field, he should turn, as it were, into thrust lines as he has in the past,” said Jeff Albert, Cardinals hitting coach. “It’s less than the courts he has to tackle or he pollutes, the courts he used to deal with. We’re trying to get that back on track. If we can get that right with his swing, the courts he’s swinging he has to play hard. And then He is Paul Dejong.
This isn’t what his batting coach has seen go to the plate lately. DeJong said he got a call from Lorenzo Garmendia, who hired him during the lockdown, and the coach told him “(You) don’t look like yourself.” His body language gave his hit rate. DeJong took it as a reminder — and a challenge.
“I tried to have a different attitude,” DeJong said.
And he had strong hits, even though he missed as many pitches he would have liked and still had two hits.
When asked if his concentration or confidence is being tested, DeJong shook his head.
It’s more of my intention to get tested,” DeJong said. “I find myself trying to nibble a lot at once, rather than just doing my job and staying locked in in that moment. I feel different than last year and feel better, but I might be in the same place. I try to create things instead of trusting them.”
How long the cardinals give him depends on what is happening around him.
There are two guaranteed seasons, including this one, and $18 million left over his contract extension. DeJong said he hadn’t thought about whether the team would send him to Class AAA Memphis for a restart. He answered that question how he “feels that I can contribute here and I belong here and I will find a way here.”
The Cardinals will know more on Tuesday about Sosa’s return schedule. Top leaderboard Nolan Gorman leads Memphis with 12 and continues to gain experience at second base. The Cardinals, so far, have been reluctant to move Golden Glove award-winning Edman from second to second, but they can’t dismiss the idea.
In the ninth game of Sunday, Dejong was affected by Marmol’s plan, and the plan, if the Cardinals tied the game, was to lose the designated hitter and have Donovan play second base.
The director admitted that Addiction would move to sale.
DeJong’s playing on the field continues to give him time to either reward the Cardinal’s winter commitment or see that transformation in the surging summer heat.
“When things don’t go well, you have to earn a few wins here and there,” DeJong said. “And that, to me, is competing or squaring the ball, or seeing a bunch of pitches or walking, moving a runner — all those little little things are what you’re after, and then — and then — the big things will come.”